LGBTQ Terminology

Here we have a non-comprehensive list of LGBTQIA+ terminology that you may come across when interacting with individuals in this community. This list is "non-comprehensive" because language is fluid and changing, and this is exemplified in this community quite strongly: Individuals are often discovering new terms to label their identity, or simply resurrecting an older term if they think it fits them well.

  1. If you see or hear a term not in this list:
  2. Search it - the Internet is our friend!

Ask the individual what that term means for them and their identity - Two people might use the same term (i.e. bisexual), but define it differently (i.e. "I like men and women," v. "I like all people, I just use bisexual because it's more commonly known and I have to explain it less.")

How to Use the Glossary

We have broken our glossary into sections.

  1. Terms for All Identities: Here you will find terms like "Coming out" or "Partner" that can apply to any identity. We have also included basic social justice terminology like "discrimination" and "oppression" to give a framework.
  2. Sex and Gender: Here you will find terms like "Transgender," "Intersex," or "Gender Identity" that apply to our understanding of sex and gender.
  3. Sexual Orientation: Here you will find terms like "Bisexual," "Asexual," or "Heteronormativity" that apply to our understanding of sexual orientations.

Each section has subheadings to help you navigate:

  1. General: terms needed to talk about and explain identities.
  2. Identities: descriptions of identities that fall under that section.
  3. Experience-Related Terminology: terms that help explain some aspects of having an identity in that category.

Terms for All Identities

Here you will find terms like "Coming out" or "Partner" that can apply to any identity. We have also included basic social justice terminology like "discrimination" and "oppression" to give a framework.

Social Justice Language

Ally - a person who supports and honors identity diversity, acts accordingly to challenge identity-phobic, dominant identity-centric, and discriminatory centric remarks and behaviors, and is willing to explore and understand these forms of bias within themselves. *Note: "Ally" is not represented by the "A" in the various acronym (i.e. "LGBTQIA")

Discrimination - differential treatment that favors one individual or group over another based on prejudice.Institutional Oppression - Societal processes and expectations that benefit one group at the expense of another through the use of language, media, education, religion, economics, etc.

Internalized Oppression - The process by which a member of an oppressed group comes to accept and live out the inaccurate stereotypes applied to the oppressed group.

Oppression - the systematic exploitation of one social group by another for its own benefit. It involves institutional control, ideological domination, and the promulgation of the dominant group's culture on the oppressed. Oppression = Prejudice + Power.

Prejudice - A conscious or unconscious negative belief about a whole group of people and its individual members.

Stereotype - A preconceived or oversimplified generalization about an entire group of people without regard for their individual differences. Though often negative, can also be complimentary. Even positive stereotypes can have a negative impact, however, simply because they involve broad generalizations that ignore individual realities.

Terms Related to Experience

Closet - being "in the closet" means keeping your gender identity and/or sexual orientation a secret. Many LGTBQIA+ people remain in the closet because of fear of rejection, harassment, and anti-gay violence. Many LGBTQIA+ people find that being in the closet can be an isolated, confining place.

Coming Out - the developmental process in which a person acknowledges, accepts, and appreciates their gender identity and/or sexual orientation. Coming out is a lifelong process, starting with coming out to oneself and then to others.

Outing - exposing someone's gender identity and/or sexual orientation to others, usually without their permission.

Partner - gender-less term term for someone with whom one is involved, usually in a primary relationship. Avoids assumption of gender identity or sexual orientation. Also, a person's partner in marriage, life, dating. Can be used by all couples regardless of identities.

Passing/Blending - a person's ability to be perceived as a dominant gender/sex or sexual orientation that they might not hold (i.e. a trans woman who one would not question being trans)

Queer - multiple definitions:

  1. an umbrella term to describe individuals who don't identify as straight and/or cisgender. Individuals who identify as queer might or might not begin using a different term at a later date.
  2. a slur used to refer to someone who isn't straight and/or cisgender. Due to its historical use as a derogatory term, and how it is still used as a slur many communities, it is not embraced or used by all LGBTQIA+ people.
  3. often be use interchangeably with LGBTQIA+ (e.g., "queer people" instead of "LGBTQ people").

Questioning - The process of exploring one's own gender identity, gender expression, and/or sexual orientation. Some folks may also use this term to name their identity within the LGBTQIA+ community.

Sex and Gender

Here you will find terms like "Transgender," "Intersex," or "Gender Identity" that apply to our understanding of sex and gender.


Gender - a social construct defining the collection of characteristics that are culturally associated with masculinity or femininity; gender is to "masculine" and "feminine" as sex is to "male" and "female."

Gender Binary - The idea that there are only two genders - male/female or man/woman and that a person must be strictly gendered as either/or. (See also 'Identity Sphere.')

Gender Identity - the internal perception of an one's gender, and how they label themselves, based on how much they align or don't align with what they understand their options for gender to be. Often conflated with biological sex, or sex assigned at birth. Research indicates that gender identity is typically established by 3 years of age, however gender identity is fluid and can change throughout someone's lifetime.

Gender Expression - the external display of one's gender, through a combination of clothing, grooming, demeanor, social behavior, and other factors, generally made sense of on scales of masculinity and femininity. Also referred to as "gender presentation."

Sex / Biological Sex - a medical term referring to the chromosomal, hormonal and anatomical characteristics that are used to classify an individual as female or male or intersex. Often referred to as simply "sex," "physical sex," "anatomical sex," or specifically as "sex assigned at birth."


Bigender/Trigender/Pangender - People who identify as two, three, or all genders. They may shift between these genders or be all of them at the same time.

Cisgender /"siss-jendur"/ - a gender description for when someone's sex assigned at birth and gender identity correspond in the expected way (e.g., someone who was assigned male at birth, and identifies as a man). A simple way to think about it is if a person is not transgender, they are cisgender. The word cisgender can also be shortened to "cis."

Drag Queen or Drag King - a performer who employs exaggerated gender-marked clothing, makeup, and mannerisms for their own and other people's appreciation or for entertainment. "King" refers to someone portraying exaggerated masculinity and "Queen" refers to someone portraying exaggerated femininity. Not all Drag Queens/Kings are biologically male/female or identify as a man/woman, respectively. 

Gender non-conforming - Not fully aligning to or fulfilling social expectations of gender, whether that be in terms of expression, roles, or performance.

Gender Expansive - An umbrella term sometimes used to describe people who expand notions of gender expression and identity beyond perceived or expected societal gender norms. Some gender-expansive individuals identify as a mix of genders, some identify more binarily as a man or a woman, and some identify as no gender (see agender). Gender-expansive people might feel that they exist among genders, as on a spectrum, or beyond the notion of the man/woman binary paradigm. Sometimes gender-expansive people use gender-neutral pronouns (see Pronouns), but people can exist as any gender while using any pronouns. They may or may not be comfortable with their bodies as they are, regardless of how they express their gender.

Genderfluid - This term can be used as a specific identity or as a way of articulating the changing nature of one's gender identity or expression. People who are genderfluid may feel that their gender identity or expression is changeable.

Genderqueer - a term used by many trans-youth who do not identify as either male or female and who often seek to blur gender lines.

Intersex - term for a combination of chromosomes, gonads, hormones, internal sex organs, and genitals that differs from the two expected patterns of male or female. Many visibly intersex people are given surgeries by doctors at birth to make the individual's sex characteristics conform to a certain gender/sex alignment, often without their parents knowledge or consent. Intersex people are relatively common - moreso than redheads. Formerly known as hermaphrodite (or hermaphroditic), but these terms are now outdated and derogatory.

Non-binary - Non-binary people are those who identify as a gender that is neither man nor woman or who are not men or women exclusively. Non-binary can refer to a specific gender identity or it can function as an umbrella term which can include (though not always) people who are genderqueer, agender, bigender, and others. Often combined with "transgender/trans" as an umbrella term: T/NB - trans/nonbinary.

Transgender - Adjective used most often as an umbrella term. Frequently abbreviated to "trans". It describes a wide range of identities and experiences of people whose gender identity differs from conventional expectations based on their assigned sex at birth (i.e. people who are assigned biologically male at birth are expected to identify as a man in their gender, but this is not always the case). Not all trans people undergo medical transition (surgery or hormones). Some commonly held definitions:

  1. Someone whose behavior or expression does not align their perceived gender, according to society.
  2. A gender outside of the man/woman binary.
  3. Having no gender or multiple genders.

Subterms include:

  • AMAB/MAAB - Assigned Male At Birth / Male Assigned At Birth, respectively. These terms refer to what gender someone was assigned at birth (in this case male, thus you are expected to be a boy/man). Many trans people use these as a way to talk about their gender identity without labeling their current identity.
  • MTF - a male-to-female transgender person, or a trans(gender) woman. Some trans people reject this term, arguing that they have always been female and are only making that identity visible, or that it reinforces a binary view of gender. Often used to describe what gender confirmation surgeries one may have gone through. (Not a term used commonly today, but still present)
  • AFAB/FAAB - Assigned Female At Birth and Female Assigned At Birth respectively. These terms refer to what gender you were assigned at birth (in this case female, thus you are expected to be a girl/woman). Many trans people use these as a way to talk about their gender identity without labeling their current identity.
  • FTM - a female-to-male transgender person, or a trans(gender) man. Some trans people reject this term, arguing that they have always been male and are only making that identity visible, or that it reinforces a binary view of gender. Often used to describe what gender confirmation surgeries one may have gone through. (Not a term used commonly today, but still present)

Two Spirit - an umbrella term traditionally used within someNorth American Native and Indigenous communities to recognize individuals who possess qualities or fulfill roles of multiple genders, and are seen as being 'blessed by the Creator. It is important to note that being two spirit is not the same as being Gay, Lesbian, or Trans.

Experience-Related Terminology

Cisgender Privilege - The privileges cisgender people have because their gender identities match their assigned gender and because they are considered "normal". For example, cis people don't have to worry about violence and institutionalized discrimination simply due to the fact they are cis.

Dead name - the birth or given name of someone who has changed it. Often used by trans people who go by their chosen name and do not want to refer to their former identity. It is not appropriate to ask someone what their deadname is. If you need to know if the name you know them as is their legal name, ask "Is "(insert name)" your legal name/the name used on legal documentation?" Also used as a verb when one uses the given name (i.e. "They deadnamed me."

Drag or In Drag - wearing clothing considered appropriate for someone of another gender. Drag also generally includes performing exaggerated aspects of the opposite gender.

Gender Confirmation Surgeries - Medical surgeries used to modify one's body to be more congruent with one's gender identity. Also known as sex-reassignment surgeries, though this has fallen out of favor. Note: the plural is used intentionally, as many people ask "Have they had THE surgery," when there are in fact multiple surgeries involved. IMPORTANT: It is NOT appropriate to ask about if a trans person is getting any surgery or has had surgery. As mentioned above in "Transgender," Not all trans people undergo medical transition (surgery or hormones). Sometimes they do not feel a need or desire to have one or more of these surgeries, and sometimes they are unable to access these procedures (either due to cost or unable to find a provider who will perform these).

Cis-gender Oppression - The societal, institutional, and individual beliefs and practices that privilege cisgender (gender-typical people) and subordinate and disparage transgender people. Also known as "cis-genderism."

Misgender - The act of attributing a person to a gender they do not identify as. (i.e. using an old name or pronouns)

Transition - This term is primarily used to refer to the process a person undergoes when changing their bodily appearance/expression either to be more congruent with the gender/sex they feel themselves to be and/or to be in harmony with their preferred gender expression. Not always a medical process - might simply involve a new name/pronouns/wardrobe, but can include hormone therapy and/or surgeries.

Transmisogyny - Originally coined by the author Julia Serano, this term highlights the intersectionality of misogyny and transphobia and how they are often experienced as a dual form of oppression by trans women and some other AMAB/MAAB/MTF trans people.

Transphobia - the fear and hatred of or discomfort with people who are transgender

Sexual Orientation

Here you will find terms like "Bisexual," "Asexual," or "Heteronormativity" that apply to our understanding of sexual orientations.


Emotional Attraction - a capacity that evokes the want to engage in emotionally intimate behavior (e.g., sharing, confiding, trusting, inter-depending), experienced in varying degrees (from little-to-none to intense). Often conflated with sexual attraction or romantic attraction.

Romantic Attraction - a capacity that evokes the want to engage in romantically intimate behavior (e.g., dating, relationships, marriage), experienced in varying degrees (from little-to-none, to intense). Often conflated with sexual attraction or emotional attraction - one can be romantically attracted to two or more identities (biromantic), but only experience sexual attraction for one of them (gay/lesbian or straight).

Sexual Attraction - a capacity that evokes the want to engage in physically intimate behavior (e.g., kissing, touching, intercourse), experienced in varying degrees (from little-to-none, to intense). Often conflated with romantic attraction, emotional attraction, and/or spiritual attraction.

Sexual Behavior - what a person does in terms of sexual acts. Describes actions, not an identity - a man might experiment with a another man, but this does not make him gay.

Sexual Orientation - the type of sexual, romantic, emotional/spiritual attraction one has the capacity to feel for some others, generally labeled based on the gender relationship between the person and the people they are attracted to. Often confused with sexual preference.

Sexual Preference - what a person likes or prefers to do sexually: a conscious recognition or choice not to be confused with sexual orientation. Often comes up in relation to bisexual identities: one might be attracted to men and women, but have a preference for one over the other.

Sexuality - the complex range of components that make us sexual beings: includes emotional, physical, and sexual aspects, as well as self-identification (including sexual orientation and gender), behavioral preferences and practices, fantasies, and feelings of affection and emotional affinity.


Aromantic /"ay-ro-man-tic"/ - experiencing little or no romantic attraction to others and/or has a lack of interest in romantic relationships/behavior. Aromanticism exists on a continuum from people who experience no romantic attraction or have any desire for romantic activities, to those who experience low levels, or romantic attraction only under specific conditions. Sometimes abbreviated to "aro" (pronounced like "arrow"). Someone who is aromantic might or might not desire sexual activity.

Asexual /"ay-sexual"/ - A sexual orientation generally characterized by not feeling sexual attraction or a desire for partnered sexuality. Asexuality is distinct from celibacy, which is the deliberate abstention from sexual activity. Some asexual people do have sex. There are many diverse ways of being asexual. Many of these different places on the continuum have their own identity labels (see demisexual). Someone who is asexual might or might not desire romantic activity.

Bicurious - A curiosity about having sexual relations with a multiple gender/sex identities.

Biromantic /"bi-ro-man-tic"/ - experiencing romantic attraction to multiple other identities. Someone who is biromantic might be sexually attracted to the same identities they are romantically attracted to, or they might not.

Bisexual - A person whose primary sexual and affectional orientation is toward people of the same and other genders, or towards people regardless of their gender. Often used as an umbrella term for people who are attracted to more than one gender.

Bisexual Umbrella / Bi/Pan Umbrella - a category of identities that describe people who are attracted to more than one gender. Holds terms like bisexual, polysexual, pansexual, omnisexual, etc.

Demisexual - is a sexual orientation in which someone feels sexual attraction only to people with whom they have an emotional bond. Most demisexuals feel sexual attraction rarely compared to the general population, and some have little to no interest in sexual activity. Demisexuals are considered to be on the asexual spectrum, meaning they are closely aligned

Gay - was used commonly in previous generations to refer to all people who are LGBTQIA+. It is more commonly used to refer to gay men. This word has been used often as slang to make reference to something negative. The use of this word in this manner may be hurtful to sexual minorities and is not consistent with being an ally.

Gay Man - a man who is emotionally, romantically, sexually, affectionately, and relationally attracted to other men

Heterosexual/Straight - a person who is primarily or exclusively emotionally, romantically, sexually, affectionately, and relationally attracted to people of the "opposite" sex

Homosexual - An word used to describe a person who is primarily emotionally, physically, and/or sexually attracted to members of the same sex. The use of this term outside of a clinical setting has fallen out of favor, as it was a medical diagnosis when first introduced, and connotes an uncomfortability.

Lesbian - a woman who is emotionally, romantically, sexually, affectionately, and relationally attracted to other women.

Pansexual, Omnisexual - Terms used to describe people who have romantic, sexual or affectional desire for people of all genders and sexes. Often put under the Bisexual Label (Bi-Umbrella or Bi/Pan Umbrella), as more people are familiar with the term "bisexual."

Terms Related to Experience

Biphobia - fear/hatred or discrimination against people who are bisexual, pansexual, omnisexual, or nonmonosexual. This can present as comments like "When you get married, do you become gay/straight?" These comments may come from genuine curiosity or confusion, but contribute to a lack of understanding about the identity. A subset of this is Bi-erasure, or pretending that bisexuality is a "myth." This often comes from within the community as much as outside of it. For example, "One day, you'll realize you're actually just gay."

Heterosexual Privilege - the basic civil rights and social privileges that a heterosexual person automatically receives that are systematically denied to gay, lesbian, and bisexual persons simply because of their sexual orientation. The assumption that all people are heterosexual.

Homophobia - the fear and hatred of or discomfort with people who love and sexually desire members of the same sex. Homophobic/transphobic reactions often lead to intolerance, bigotry, and violence against anyone not acting within heterosexual norms.

Heterocentrism - the assumption that everyone is heterosexual unless otherwise indicated. Labels heterosexuality to be a "norm" and all other identities to be outside of this "norm."

Heteronormativity - A set of lifestyle norms, practices, and institutions that promote binary alignment of biological sex, gender identity, and gender roles; assume heterosexuality as a fundamental and natural norm; and privilege monogamous, committed relationships and reproductive sex above all other sexual practices.

Heterosexism - The assumption that all people are or should be heterosexual. Heterosexism excludes the needs, concerns, and life experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual and queer people while it gives advantages to heterosexual people. It is often a subtle form of oppression, which reinforces realities of silence and invisibility.

Straight-Acting - A term usually applied to gay men who readily pass as heterosexual. The term implies that there is a certain way that gay men act that is significantly different from heterosexual men. "Straight-acting" gay men are often looked down upon in the LGBTQ community for seemingly accessing heterosexual privilege.